Flight nurse training is an extremely tough course load that’s designed to prepare nursing students for the rigors of working on a medical evacuation (medevac) helicopter or rescue plane. Working as a nurse in an emergency room situation is tough enough, but flight nurses have it even harder- they are confined to a working area in a plane or helicopter, and are generally dealing with patients that are in pretty dire straits. Many people walk into the emergency room without actually needing emergency care. Nobody gets loaded onto a medevac helicopter unless they really, really need to.
There are a lot of reasons why flight nurses need specific training, and why the number of available positions is a lot smaller than the number of would-be flight nurses:
Being a flight nurse is one of the most mentally and physically demanding jobs in nursing.
The patients on medical flights are universally critically ill or seriously injured, and should not be handled by inexperienced nurses.
Flight nurses absolutely must have some practical trauma experience in order to be of value to a medical evacuation team.
On an medevac flight, every second counts. Nurses must be able to do everything as efficiently as possible, so absolutely no time is wasted.
Flight Nurse Training Courses
In order to become a flight nurse, candidates should already be registered nurses with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. Additional training as an emergency medical technician doesn’t hurt, either. Generally speaking, medical flights are like stripped-down, mobile trauma centers. The ideal candidate to work on one is a nurse with a master’s degree, experience in a trauma center, and some kind of certification in life support techniques.
Though state Boards of Nursing have varying attitudes toward flight nursing with regards to their educational requirements and scopes of practice, in general there are no nursing degree programs that are designed to turn out flight nurses. Instead, the path to becoming a flight nurse generally follows a natural progression from registered nurse, to emergency room nurse in a trauma center, to continuing educational programs designed to give critical care nurses more skills when it comes to dealing with their sickest and most injured patients. Nurses can then take the certified flight registered nurse exam, and apply for one of the relatively few medevac nursing jobs available. Actual nursing examination and education requirements vary from state to state, so candidates for medevac positions should contact their local Boards of Nursing to find out what their state’s individual requirements are.
Flight Nursing Scope of Practice
A flight nurse has the same scope of practice as a critical care nurse, though some states expand their scopes of practice in order to allow flight nurses to perform all of the tasks they need to to ensure good patient outcomes. Nurses must be able to monitor patients’ IV drips (sometimes many at once), interpret readouts from instruments like EKGs, keep an eye on patients’ reactions to treatment, and assist flight doctors in performing any necessary lifesaving measures.
Flight Nursing Jobs are Limited
Despite an overall nursing shortage, there’s actually a limit to the number of flight nursing jobs available. Though flight nurses can work for either large, public hospitals or private companies, there simply aren’t enough medevac jobs available for all of the nurses that want them. This is due to the fact that flight nurses are only needed for a small percentage of patients, flight nurses don’t suffer from the same occupational burnout that a lot of hospital staff nurses do, and few flight nurses are choosing to leave their positions before retirement. This is bad news for nursing students hoping to become medevac nurses, but good news for those that make it- flight nurses generally receive excellent pay, and report a high degree of job satisfaction.
Why You Should Become a Flight Nurse
Flight nurse training can prepare you for one of the most difficult, rewarding, and prestigious careers in nursing. Being a fight nurse isn’t like being any other type of nurse, and most medevac workers wouldn’t give up their jobs for the world. If you want to be continually challenged and offered the chance to help the patients that need the most critical care, then flight nurse training may be right up your alley.